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Oktra – Still one of the best companies to work for

As a company that firmly believes that a happy workforce is a productive workforce, London-based fit-out specialists Oktra provides its employees with everything from flexible working spaces and excellent coffee through to sports and recreational clubs. It is therefore little wonder it was recently named as one of The Sunday Times 100 Best Small Companies to Work For 2018 for the second successive year.

“It’s fantastic to get this level of recognition because our entire focus has been on creating a culture that ensures our employees enjoy being at work,” explains Nic Pryke, Design Director. “If you have a content workforce they’re naturally more productive. We’ve found that everything else then falls into place with commercial success becoming much easier to achieve.”

That this is the second year running that Oktra has made The Sunday Times list demonstrates the consistency of its approach. Although the recognition underlines how integral its employee-centric initiatives have become, the company has also looked to further cement its practices into its culture by drawing on the support of external organisations. For example, it has been an early adopter of The Fitwel System, which is a system that has been developed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to certify and monitor building features that impact on health and wellbeing within the built environment. Like the Well Building Standard, developed by the International WELL Building Institute, it has at its heart the concepts that it believes give value to wellbeing:

1. Water;
2. Air;
3. Light;
4. Mind;
5. Comfort;
6. Nourishment;
7. Fitness.

As part of its own strategy, Oktra has been looking at these areas to build further on the progress it has already achieved.

“Our workplace isn’t just a place we work in, it needs to deliver more,” outlines Mr Pryke. “Through wellbeing initiatives we aspire to enhance how we live in our office. With very few certificated projects currently in the country, we are delighted to be pioneers, both in our industry and in the UK, by taking part in this exciting scheme.

“At Oktra we understand and appreciate the importance of wellbeing. We view this project as another step toward a healthier and happier working world – improving our teams’ wellbeing through considered office design. 

“As a close-knit team, we aim to put our colleague’s happiness first. We pride ourselves on taking a holistic approach to wellbeing going beyond plants in the office and looking at the impact our working environment has on our mental, emotional and physical wellbeing. We explore different initiatives to create a healthier working lifestyle. While anticipating to achieve the Fitwel certification within a year, we are embracing this process as an ongoing change that will benefit how we live in our office both, now and in the future.

“We are really proud of how far we’ve come in creating such a people-centric business. As well as the various clubs that we run covering such areas as cycling, running, football, yoga and boxercise, we also do life drawing classes and run charity initiatives. It’s also all about the smaller details, such as providing great coffee, for example.

“It’s fantastic to get this level of recognition because our entire focus has been on creating a culture that ensures our employees enjoy being at work. If you have a content workforce they’re naturally more productive. We’ve found that everything else then falls into place with commercial success becoming much easier to achieve.”

Nic Pryke, Design Director

“Many of these initiatives are individually relatively easy to organise – it’s more about putting the money aside and taking the time to do so – but collectively they make such a difference to the happiness levels of our staff. We’re particularly proud of the charitable impact we’ve had, while we’ve also looked to support our employees in any way we can, such as providing financial advice and guidance on a whole range of areas, such as how to get a mortgage.

“We have also recently held a talk on mental health and have signed up to the Time to Change initiative, which aims to end mental health discrimination. As part of this approach we feel it’s vitally important that we have a very flat and transparent management structure. For instance, nobody within the organisation has an office, with directors like myself desk-sharing with other members of staff. It’s a very non-hierarchal environment.”

Given that it provides office fit-out services to its own client base, it’s important that Oktra not only practices what it preaches but has its own first-hand insight of how to create office environments that enable companies to get the best from their employees.

“When it comes to designing office workspaces there has been a sizeable momentum behind new ways of working, such as agile working,” says Mr Pryke. “We’re increasingly seeing a movement away from providing people with a desk and a mug of coffee and just leaving them to get on with it. Instead we’re seeing the creation of offices that provide employees with spaces that allow them to conduct all the activities they’d typically carry out during the course of their day; we call it activity based design. Having a more flexible environment that better reflects each employee’s work style and personality helps to increase the overall levels of productivity substantially. We’ve seen this ourselves and are keen to help our clients achieve the same results.”

Based in High Holborn, Oktra is well placed given that around 80 per cent of its work is within central London, although it has carried out projects further afield on occasion, including abroad for existing clients. Its sphere of influence is increasing further in the UK, however, as its new northern office in Stafford, which has been in existence for around 18 months now, continues to gain traction.

“We’re running the northern office along similar lines to our main office and both operations continue to grow strongly. When I started with the company six years ago we were turning over around £15m but today this figure is nearer £85m for Oktra, which incubated The Vensyn group of companies which has a turnover of just short of £175m. We have attracted all types of clients including WeWork, which are now the biggest single tenant of office space in London other than the Government, and we are partnering with them to deliver pretty much all of their London work space environments. We are going from strength-to-strength and have learnt a great deal about co-working, which is a massive growth area in the sector.”

Given how content its own workforce is, and the benefits this has on improving productivity, Oktra looks more than capable of taking on the additional workload that come its way. It would also be no surprise if it achieves a hat-trick by again being named within The Sunday Times 100 Best Small Companies to Work For list next year either.